tv American Artifacts CSPAN October 16, 2015 8:00pm-8:31pm EDT
to archives, museums, and historic sites from across the country with programs from our american artifacts series. next, a look into the national gallery of arts portrait collection. then a tour of the national museum of health and medicine followed by the white house visitors' center and the frontier culture museum. american history tv airs all weekend every weekend on c-span 3 and in primetime on weeknights when congress is in recess. we cover all periods of american history and a wide diversity of topics. you can watch all of our programs, find our tv schedule, see youtube clips of upcoming shows, and connect with us on twitter and facebook. this is american history tv only on c-span 3. each week american history tv's american artifacts visits museums and historic places.
dedicated on march 17th, 1941, the national gallery of art was a gift to the american people from financier andrew melon. up next, we visit the museum to learn about early american portrait painting and the work of john singleton copley. >> hello. i'm dianne stephens from the education department, the national gallery of art. we're standing in a room full of portraits by john singleton copley, america's most important colonial portrait painter. you can thi you want to ask them questions and receive answers. i don't think you can say it much better than that. let me give you a little background. in the early part of the 18th century in america, early
painters without much background and much training, we call them the limbners, made ambitious but tentative efforts to capture likenesses on canvas because portraiture was the only way of doing that those days and it was really the most important type of painting in the colonies. it was with john singleton copley and john west that there was a great flourishing of portrait activity that became elevated to a level of international acclaim, so copley and west are two first high level portrait painters. unfortunately in some ways but fortunate in others west left very early in his career and went to england to study where he had a successful career and became the portrait painter to the king and nourished many younger paints who came to study with him. copley, on the other hand,
stayed in boston for the first 20 years of his career, so we have these wonderful portraits of early colonials by copley. let's start with this one of epes sergeant. he was a wealthy merchant who lived in gloucester, massachusetts. by the time he died, he owned most of gloucester. he and his sons owned most of gloucester. he was in his 70s at the time this was painted, and it's an early 1760s portrait by copley. you get the sense of a man who's done well, who's happy with his position in life, who looks comfortable. copley has given us more than just a representation of his features, but we have a sense of his status and his feeling about himself. he's painted -- copley has a
great attention to detail. he doesn't leave anything out. he's got the mole under epes left eye is there. his somewhat wrinkled skin is portrayed just as it is. the fact he's bursting his jacket, he's filling out his jacket anyway, is evident. the hand he has in front of him, i think, gilbert stuart, the american painter, said later about that hand if you prick that hand, blood will spurt out. it's so realistically painted with no effort to make it pretty. here you see that epes is leaning on an antique column, and there probably weren't many of those in the colonies in the 1760s. copley gets much -- much of his training comes from the fact
that his stepfather was an engraver and this compositional idea probably came from that. i love to look at this just a little bit. it must be his waistcoat showing through. he's dressed for conservatively in a very simple cloth, but you have that gold brocade coming through. it's a wonderful painting. he was a harvard graduate. if you look across the room, this man painted 12 years later but copley was his harvard roommate -- not his roommate, his classmate. little did they think they would be hanging together in this gallery. this is eleazer ting. i think he owned land in new hampshire and was also a massachusetts merchant and political figure. he was 82 when this was painted.
copley has shown him just as he was. you'll notice the way he's painted the face and the hands is a little different. this is 12 years later. copley has changed his techni e technique, so the hands are painted with a little bit more fluid paint and in the face as well. it's easier to show the details, so copley is changing and developing as he goes along through his career in boston. so copley's portraits of men show you these very substantial realistic figures that look comfortable in their setting and you have a sense that they had, these two men especially, that they've had successful lives and they're in a good place. his paintings of women are sometimes just so ravishingly beautiful in their attention to fabric and texture and the beauty of the skin, like this portrait of anne fairchild
bowler. this was painted in 1763, so about the same time he was painting epes sergeant, but it's a totally different approach. look at the beauty of the garland and the lace sleeves on her dress. you can see his training in engraving and in fine detail when you see how he's treated these fabrics. she's again shown with a column and the drapery in a very classical setting he probably saw in european engravings. there's an interesting story tho woman. she was married to metcalfe bowler. he was very wealthy. accumulated a huge amount of wealth in the shipping industry, and they had a home in newport. he was very active in political affairs. they lived on clark street. in 1763 he had accumulated so much wealth that they retired to
their country estate in port smith, new hampshire. maybe that's where her garland comes from. so they were happily loving on this estate in new hampshire, but the war came along and the british soldiers ravished his estate. his income from shipping totally stopped, and things got very hard for metcalfe. there was only discovered in the 20th century at that point he corresponded with general clinton, sir clinton, who was the british soldier and british commander of the area. he wrote to him offering intelligence in exchange for protection from the soldiers for some cash. this was not discovered until the 20th century when clinton's
papers went to the clement's library in ann arbor and this correspondence was discovered. so it doesn't look like he got much assistance, much protection, or much cash because his circumstances were considerably reduced after the war. he and his wife moved to providence where they set up a shop. he became a shopkeeper and they had a boardinghouse. so the question is, did ann know about his traitorous activities? we don't know, but it doesn't take away from this beautiful portrait of this very young, very confident, self-assured looking young woman with her beautiful garland of flowers and her beautiful lace sleeves. another portrait in this room of a woman by copley is this one of abigail smith babcock, the wife of another wealthy merchant, who was not a spy. he was a patriot, and he
provided ships and assistance to the revolutionary troops. she's shown in this beautiful, very stylish dress. often you see it in white, but this style that comes from ancient greece or turkish fashions with the empire waist and pearl belt she's wearing. she has that cape, which makes you think was that hers or was it something copley used in in the studio. we don't know.vb she's holding a beautiful garnet bracelet. she's holding onto the clasp, but she has the beads of the garnet wound around her fingers. it's a lovely portrait. you'll see as we go through the galleries that many times the husband and wife were painted or
children, son and daughter-in-law were painted. these were family portraits or efforts to portray the whole family. i think they would have been the only way of recording a likeness because photography wasn't available yet. so they were there and probably hung in homes unless they were in some cases commissioned for political -- like for a state house or something like that, but these are personal that we're looking. copley lived on beacon hill in boston. he'd had a quite lucrative business as a portrait painter. this is one of the last ones -- actually, i do remember that he painted her husband as well, mr. adam babcock. these paintings were done in 1774, which were some of the last ones copley painted before he left boston for europe. he had a lucrative practice. 1774, he knew torreys and he
knew patriots. he didn't seem to differentiate between the two. he probably lived amongst both. i think he just got tired of the turmoil. it became not particularly lucrative. nobody was thinking about having a portrait painted when revolutionary activities were becoming so prevalent, so he just decided this was the time to go. amazingly enough he left his wife and four children in boston and went to england and then to italy to study. his wife met him in england. but when he left, i don't think that was necessarily the plan, but activities -- it became so turbulent here that he decidedd it was safer for her to come to england, so she came with her father. so as i said, copley in 1774 decided it was time to leave boston and go to europe to study. he had been encouraged by
benjamin west to come for years, so he finally decided the revolution's coming. things aren't good for portraiture here in boston. i think it's time to go. he went to england briefly and met with west and then he went to italy to study for a year. his family, his wife and four children, were left behind with her father richard clark. they eventually joined him in london. when copley came back to alolon after his year in italy, he was so pleased to be reunited with his family he painted this portrait in celebration of that reunion, so this is copley in the back holding some sheets of paper and his family in the foreground. his wife with his young son, john copley jr., and his father-in-law is holding the youngest child, the recently born baby. there's an interesting story about that. and the other two girls, you see
their dolls. a doll and a hat here in the corner. they're in the background. when copley learned that his wife had come to london, he was still in litaly. she said she came with three of the children. he asked her which one did you leave behind. it must have been the youngest one because he was so delicate. she did leave their youngest son behind. he died in january. when copley started in painting of his family, the baby would have been that child, but that child died and copley must have known his wife was expecting another. he left the space and painted in
the fifth child in this painting. one child is not here. his image of his wife kind of reminds you of an italian madonna and betrays his study in italy the year before they came. they're sitting in furniture that would have been in their home in london. richard clark, copley's wife's father, was a merchant in boston with torrey leanings, and it was his tea, the tea that was dumped into the boston harbor at the tea party, had been received by his receiving company. it was his tea that was dumped into the harbor, so he probably had good reason to leave and go to england. so this whole idea of a group portrait is something new, much beyond what the early limbners in america could do.
it's a baroque idea of a group portrait is a hard thing to carry off. copley learned this while he was studying in italy. we can go back into the room. we're back in the room with copley portraits. this is another group portrait that copley painted once he went to england. again, this is a very sophisticated effort on his part to capture a modern-day history scene, a modern-day something that actually happened. this painting was commissioned by brook watson when he was the lord mayor of london. this was something that happened to him as a young man when he was on a merchant ship and they were outside of havana, in havana harbor when he decided to go for a swim in the water and
was attacked by a shark. these are men coming to his rescue. he did lose his limb in this attack. he later saw it in life as a way of dealing with adversity and conquering adversity, so this is kind of a moral lesson. he commissioned this painting to show posterity, that he had been able to triumph over this great adversity of losing his leg to the shark, so it is an amazing painting by copley. he obviously never saw a shark before. that shark has ears. copley is in england now. let's look at this portrait by edward savage, another american painter who was self-trained. copley would have said he was self-trained too, but he had his father-in-law to teach him and then he went to work with west in england, but this is edward
savage, who was a self-trained painter. this painting was done in 1789. it's after the revolutionary war. we're in a new phase here. this is washington with his family. very similar to the copley with his family, but this is george washington who by this time is the central focus of life in america. he's seated with his family at mount vernon. it's george dressed in his revolutionary war uniform and martha washington, her lovely self, as always dressed in beautiful gray satin with a lace shawl. george has his hand on the table at the center of the composition and his other arm is resting on his young ward and stepchild, john washington park gus tus. martha is shown with nelly
custus. these are martha's grandchildren. these children came to live with martha and george. they lived when he was president in philadelphia and new york and then they came to mount vernon. george washington had high hopes for young wash. they didn't quite work out that way. he wasn't ready to take on the kind of activities that george washington had hoped with government and all, but he has his armresting inresz -- resti. martha and nelly are holding a map. martha is pointing to something on the map. we think it might be penn penn
aven pennsylvania avenue or the white avenue. the setting is mount vernon, washington's home. the unidentified black servant in the corner of the painting, it's not known. it might be meant to portray washington's very devoted personal slave who was with him through the war. his name was will, william lee, whom washington freed with his will. his was the second name mentioned after martha's. it may just been to add -- make it known it was a virginia planter's home. but the view up the potomac is toward washington. this was painted -- there was a commission for a painting at harvard by savage. that is what led to this
commission. i'm not sure where it hung. i think savage showed it. i think it was more -- i think it may have been something savage kept and allowed people to see because people were so interested. it was the talk of philadelphia when it was being painted. everybody wanted to see it. george washington was just so important. everyone wanted an image of him. we'll see with the later stuart portraits. every painter wanted to paint him and everybody wanted a copy of those paintings. this was very, very popular and was reproduced many times by print and engraving. in fact, it was engraved before it was finished because there are engraved versions of it that show wash and nelly much younger than they were. then he went back and changed it
because they had grown. they had grown in a few years time. a young boy like that would change and a young girl, so he had to go back and repaint them. there are engraved versions that are different. it's interesting. we'll see nelly kustus again in another room painted by stuart. there's another painting by copley in this room. it's an early portrait by copley that we will see this young woman's husband in a later room. this is elizabeth gray, and she's painted in a very fantastic way. she's shown her has a shepherdess, and she's holding a crook, flowers in her hair. this is maybe a bridal portrait of her.
mercy otis was a writer and she wrote in favor of american liberties and james otis was a politician who tremendously supported the revolution as his did brother samuel, her husband, but her father, harrison gray, who copley also painted was a torrey, a high torrey, and left for england when the revolution broke out. his painting, however, ended up with her. whether he left it with her as a way of remembering him, we don't know. here's an instance of a family completely torn by the revolutionary war. this painting was cut back at some point, cut down at some point on the sides. you can see the tip of her shepherd's crook was cut off and probably the tips of her fingers over there and the bottom was cut off, perhaps cutting off her
hand. we don't know why it was cut back at some point. sometimes people did it just to make it fit a frame. so in this room, let's see, there are paintings by other american artists opini. the one i want to focus on is charles wilson peel. peel is another person who painted washington many times. we don't have that here, but we do this interesting portrait of john boardley by peel. peel was an american painter who was a tremendously energetic man. he always had projects going. he started out as a saddler. he did metal work. he was born in maryland and lived in annapolis. he traveled back and forth to philadelphia and various places to do portraits eventually when he decided he would begin painting. then he eventually went -- like
copley, he eventually went to england and spent some years with benjamin west. benjamin west was an amazing figure that welcomed almost every painter. west was always welcoming. and they said he never held anything back. he always told everything he knew, so he was willing to share everything he knew. this painting by charles wilson peel, this was a man who was a lawyer and a businessman in annapolis, and he is one of the men who put money together in order to send charles wilson peel to england to study with west. he and about ten men put together funds in order to give peel a fellowship with benjamin west, and then he came back to paint in annapolis and then eventually moved to philadelphia. this man, this painting, shows him -- the message of this
painting is the american colonies will not tolerate british control. the feeling was that britain was going back on her word, that american colonists were british citizens and they should be treated as such. and this painting shows two thing. it shows in the background the abundance of the american colonies and this man's point. american's could be economically self-sufficient. he made his own beer. you can see his sheep grazing on his plantation, eastern shore plantation farm. the pack horse over here loaded with plenty, the peach tree up above him. he grew peaches on his farm. so all of these things attest to the ability of the colonies to sustain themselves economically.
and in the foreground there are things that point to english law. he's pointing his finger to a figure of justice standing on a column that says lex anglus, means english law. this thing that's torn over here kind of refers to the english attempts to tax the colonies differently than they tax people in england. he's basically saying the law in england says this and you're doing this, you're treating us differently, and that shouldn't be. this is really a political statement. very complicated iconography that worked out with charles wilson peel. peel was a very prominent whig politician, a republican politician, in favor of the american republic. these paintings are primary sources. they really are. they're here for us to look at. there's no filter on them.
the only filter is what we might bring to them. if we look carefully and try to understand them, i think they're a great source for understanding who the people were and what life was like at that time. this was the first of a two-part look at american hor traits at the national gallery of art. you can view this and all other american history tv programs at our website, c-span.org/history. join american history tv on saturday, november 7th for tours and live interviews from the national world war ii museum in new orleans. we'll explore the u.s.s. tang submarine experience, the road to berlin, and the african-american story. and we'll take your questions for historians joining us from new orleans throughout the day. world war ii 70 years later live from the national world war ii museum saturday, november 7th beginning at 11:00 a.m. eastern here on american history tv on
c-span 3. each week american history tv's american artifacts visits museums and historic places. located on the national mall in washington, d.c., the national gallery of art was a gift to the american people from financier andrew melon, who served as treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932. up next, we visit the museum to learn about early american portrait painting. in this program, we feature the work of gilbert stuart, whose unfinished portrait of george washington is the image on the $1 bill. >> hello. i'm dianne stephens. john trumbull is an artist who was well known for his history paintings in america. he aspired to be a history painter. then he eventually went, like copley, to england and studied. spent a couple years with
benjamin west. benjamin west was an amazing figure who welcomed almost every painter we're going to talk about today, studied with west at some time. this is his portrait of alexander hamilton, who was a very prominent figure among our early fathers of this country. and it's interesting that here alexander hamilton is hanging next to gilbert stuart's portrait of john jay. alexander hamilton, john jay, and john madison wrote the federalist papers. john jay invited alexander hamilton to be part of the treaty commission in london, so there's quite a connection between these two men. who knew they would hang next to each other in the national gallery? looking at john jay leads us to gilbert stuart, who is